Lobby jobs harm health
Experts say the revolving door between politics and big lobbies can be bad for our health.
Politicians and government staffers switching sides to lobby for powerful food, alcohol and gambling companies poses a serious threat to public health, according to a new study by the Sax Institute.
Researchers found that of 560 people on the Australian Government Register of Lobbyists, 197 stated that they had formerly been a government representative.
It finds several examples of people working at senior levels of government going on to work directly for alcohol, food or gambling industries, often in areas directly related to their previous government role.
“Industry’s privileged access to government threatens unbiased policy making and creates an imbalance between the influence of industry and evidence-based public health advocacy,” they write.
They point to continued delays in implementing alcohol warning labels and the lack of gambling reform despite strong public support as two areas where industry influence has undermined evidence-based public health policy.
“We urgently need a rethink on how we regulate this, and on how long former government officials should have to wait before moving on to lobbying roles,” said senior author Professor Peter Miller of the School of Psychology at Deakin University.
The study authors examined LinkedIn and lobbyist business websites to identify the previous roles in which the former government representatives worked.
Of the 122 individuals whose job history was identified, most had held influential positions: 18 per cent had been a Member of Parliament or Senator and 47 per cent had been a Senior Advisor or Chief of Staff. The majority had spent more than 10 years in government prior to their roles as lobbyists.
A series of interviews was conducted with former and current politicians, staffers, journalists, public health advocates and a lobbyist about the influence of the alcohol, food and gambling industries on government policy.
“You see former politicians popping up in these lobbying organisations, and the only reason they’re employed is because they can wield influence,” explained one former politician who was interviewed in the study.
The study authors call for tighter and more robustly enforced regulations around “cooling-off periods” between government employment and lobbying roles.
They note that although rules prevent federal ministers and parliamentary secretaries from lobbying in related areas for 18 months, these rules are poorly enforced.
Other countries, they add, have considerably longer cooling-off periods, with both the United States and Canada adopting a five-year ban on administration officials.
The authors also call for bans on information-sharing by former government officials and a federal anti-corruption body to provide oversight and transparency.